The eyes are very sensitive organs, and their regular exposure to the external environment can often leave them highly vulnerable to damage. However the great outdoors is not the only place where your eyes may potentially be in danger. Even during the winter months, when we are all safely inside and taking shelter from the cold, there are several environmental factors that can have an adverse effect on your eyesight. At Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons, we are concerned with all aspects of your eye health. So here are some of the threats to your eyes that you should watch out for this holiday season.
Many people believe that if the sun isn’t hot, it can’t hurt you, but this could not be further from the truth. High frequency ultraviolet light, which is responsible for the vast majority of damage to the skin and eyes, easily penetrates heavy cloud cover and is just as intense when the temperatures are below freezing. Moreover, while the natural anatomy of the face helps shield the eyes from light that comes from above, it provides less effective protection against light that is reflected upwards from ice or snow on the ground, as anyone who has suffered from snow blindness can attest. Excessive exposure to UV light can result in photokeratitis, a condition not unlike a sun-burn on the surface of the eye. Symptoms include pain and a “gritty” feeling, redness and swelling, excessive tearing, blurry vision, headache, and in some cease even temporary vision loss. Photokeratitis can be easily prevented by wearing eye protection, such as sunglasses rated for sufficient UV protection or appropriate snow goggles.
Chronic Dry Eye
Fireplaces, space heaters, and even central heating systems may help ward off the winter chill, but they also have a tendency to suck the moisture from the air. This is why many people, even if they are safely inside during the winter, start to experience the gritty sandpaper-like sensation associated with chronic dry eye. As the problem worsens, patients may also experience redness and itching, light sensitivity, or even a blurred vision. Left untreated, chronically dry eyes have an increased risk for developing serious eye infections and even long-term damage in the form of corneal ulcers. Minor chronic cases are usually addressed with either non-prescription artificial tears or prescription anti-inflammatory medication. Some patients even find relief by supplementing their diet with omega-3 fatty acids, which are found naturally in foods like oily fish (salmon, sardines, anchovies) and flax seeds.
When people are cooped up indoors, they often seek entertainment with digital devices, but this can be a recipe for eye damage. Short-wavelength, high-energy blue light appears brighter to human eyes, making it the most energy-efficient color of light to produce. Hence, many of today’s electronic devices, like cell phones, tablets, and flat-screen televisions, use LED back-light technology that emit very strong blue light waves to enhance screen brightness and clarity. However, this concentrated blue light can, over time, potentially have a damaging effect on the light sensitive cells that make up the retina. Studies have found that blue light, more than other wavelengths, may increase the long-term risk of age-related macular degeneration, a common disease that affects central vision and is the leading cause of severe vision loss among people over the age of sixty. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) – sponsored by the Federal government’s National Eye Institute – has found that taking high levels of antioxidants and zinc can reduce the risk of developing advanced age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by about 25 percent.
Eye damage often develops slowly over time, so taking a few minor precautions now can save you a great deal of time and trouble down the road. Take care of your eyes now and they will take care of you. If you are concerned with your eyesight, or would like to schedule a routine vision screening or a comprehensive medical eye examination, please contact Georgia Eye Physicians and Surgeons today to make an appointment. Be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ for more to keep your vision healthy.